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Education curriculum criticized

The plan is intended as a recipe for well-prepared teachers, but some critics said Monday that the proposal for revamping teacher education statewide could scare students away from the profession.

"It makes a college curriculum look like a high school curriculum" with its highly specific course requirements, said John W. Richmond, associate director of the school of music at the University of South Florida.

Richmond and others referred to the state plan as a highly prescriptive, "one size fits all" approach to teacher education.

"It's going to be more difficult for you to recruit students into teacher education," said James Young, a counselor at Hillsborough Community College. Young said the mere volume of required general education courses could be daunting to freshman and sophomore students looking to settle on a major.

Richmond and Young were among 25 people who showed up at the Stavros Institute in Largo on Monday to speak out on the state's proposal. Speakers came from all over the Tampa Bay area and from as far away as Fort Myers. Similar hearings were held Monday in four other cities.

They were focused on a statewide committee's recommendations for changing the way teachers are educated in Florida's teacher colleges.

The proposals call for an increase in the number of general education courses (especially math and science) that students must take before becoming a teacher, as well as an increase in reading courses and the number of weeks required for an internship. The plan also calls for combining art, music and physical education into one course for elementary education majors.

When he released the report in January, Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher simultaneously released a survey that showed many new teachers felt ill-prepared for entering the classroom.

The recommendations aim to ensure that Florida's teacher colleges give their students everything they need to make classrooms a place where the state's elevated academic expectations can be met.

Most of the speakers Monday were officials from higher education. Many of them had some praise for the committee's proposal.

"We find much to agree with in the report," began Larry Byrnes, dean of the College of Education at Florida Gulf Coast University, speaking on behalf of his fellow deans.

Byrne agreed that a good teacher education program would include a solid background in the liberal arts and sciences, and both are goals of the recommendations. And he pointed out that some of the recommendations already are a reality at teacher colleges at Florida Gulf Coast and at USF.

But Byrne made it clear that he and his fellow deans think the recommendations will tie the hands of teacher colleges.

"The more prescriptive you are, the more you restrict a university's ability to respond to the needs of its students," Byrne said after the hearing.

Officials involved in the arts, music and physical education took issue with a recommendation to combine the three subjects into one course for elementary education majors.

"All three disciplines are highly specialized," said Eric Stamets, supervisor of elementary physical education for Hillsborough County schools. He questioned how these three subjects could be folded into one course.

The comments at Monday's hearings were recorded and will be reviewed before the state draws up a set of State Board rules to change Florida's teacher preparation requirements.